"Doctors Must Wash Hands Before…"


Study: Doctors Don't Wash Hands Enough

Over the weekend, in a trade publication, I read yet another survey about MD's (especially surgeons) not washing their hands in between patients (under 60% of doctors). That's not just a matter of being gross, that's your health at stake, as a patient.

Do I think this is a “lean healthcare” issue? Absolutely. It's a matter of people following “standard work.” Washing hands is “the one best way” of doing things and should be followed by all. It's good for patient safety, not washing your hands isn't an issue of “personal preference.” There's no room for that when lives are at stake.

To the manufacturing folks: Have you ever been in a plant where employees didn't follow lock-out procedures? A factory where people didn't always wear safety glasses?

From my factory experience, this behavior is caused by two things: 1) inappropriate quota/metric pressure focusing on quantity over quality (so I'll save time by not locking out the machine) or 2) lack of leadership oversight.

Leadership has to make these safety issues a number one priority, whether it's machine lock out or MD's washing their hands. In a hospital, it's such a simple infection control step to spend a few minutes washing your hands. The rule of thumb is to sing “Happy Birthday” two times while you're washing, and that's long enough.

Some hospitals have started an “Ask Me” campaign, where patients are supposed to feel empowered to ask MD's or Nurses if they have indeed washed their hands. I read somewhere that, if you're in inpatient care, buy one of those giant Sam's Club sized hand santizer pump bottles and put it by your bed. That sends a strong message that YOU care. Be aware if you or a loved one are being hospitalized.

But isn't hospital administration “outsourcing” their leadership responsibility to patients? Shouldn't THEY be doing rounds and asking? A good plant manager ALWAYS reminds people about wearing their safety equipment (and sets a good example him or herself).


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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

  1. […] Patients are often afraid of angering a physician. Even if doctors wear buttons that say “Ask Me,” one hospital I worked with did a patient survey and found that a majority of patients were […]

  2. […] been writing for a long time  that I think it’s inappropriate and ineffective to ask patients and families to inspect or […]

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